The nineteenth century German philosophers inherited Kant’s overwhelmingly influential ontological framework, which had distinguished between things-as-they-appear (or phenomena) from things-as-they-truly-are (noumena). To this was added ideas about evolutionism which were beginning to be prevalent in different realms like science (Jean-Baptiste Lamarck) and literature (Goethe). The confluence of these ideas resuted in German Idealism—the philosophies of Fichte, Schelling, Hegel and Schopenhauer.
Fichte, the most Kantian of the Idealists, conceived the cosmos as a mere series of representations that appear to the absolute, transcendental Ego or self. Hegel considered world history to be identical to the development of the rational consciousness of Spirit (Geist), which resulted in full self-consciousness of Spirit either (depending on your interpretation) in the present moment, or in the blossoming of Hegel’s philosophy. Schelling conceived of the cosmos as a more existential development, in which the fullness of existence itself was the cosmic telos. Schopenhauer struck a more vitalistic note; on his view, it was the irrational and metaphysically basic will to live that animated the development of the cosmos. Goethe's portrait of the restless, endlessly striving Faust—the personification of Western Civilization—could also be seen as a work of German Idealism.
Almost every subsequent philosopher has either assented to or reacted against the influence of German Idealism. Karl Marx envisioned a materialistic, economic dialectic instead of Hegel's rational one. Emerson returned to a more static, Plotinian view of the individual's relation to Nature. Søren Kierkegaard, while raging against the popularity of Hegelianism, conceived of the religious development of the individual as passing through dialectical stages. Nietzsche changed Schopenhauer's unitary "Will to Live" into a more individualized "Will to Power." Sri Aurobindo combined Hegel's ideas about the development of Spirit with Vedantic cosmology. Freud saw the individual as passing through stages of sexual development, a view which ultimately led to developmental psychology.
Vernadsky's and Teilhard's theories
Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin independently formulated very similar theories describing the gradual development of the Universe from subatomic particles to human society and beyond. Teilhard's theories are better known in the West (and have also been commented on by Julian Huxley), and integrate Darwinian evolution and Christianity, whilst Vernadsky wrote more purely from a scientific perspective, and his ideas contributed to Gaia theory.
Three classic levels are described. Cosmogenesis (Teilhard) or the formation of inanimate matter (the Physiosphere of Wilber), culminating in the Lithosphere, Atmosphere, Hydrosphere, etc (Teilhard), or collectively, the Geosphere (Vernadsky). Here progress is ruled by structure and mechanical laws, and matter is primarily of the nature of non-consciousness (Teilhard - the "Without").
This is followed by Biogenesis (Teilhard) and the origin of life or the Biosphere (Vernadsky, Teilhard), where there is a greater degree of complexity and consciousness (Teilhard - the "Within"), ecology ((Vernadsky) comes into play, and progress and development is the result of Darwinian mechanisms of evolution.
Finally there is human evolution and the rise of thought or cognition (Vernadsky, Teilhard), and a further leap in complexity and the interior life or consciousness (Teilhard), resulting in the birth of the Noosphere (Vernadsky, Teilhard). Just as the biosphere transformed the geosphere, so the noosphere (human intervention) transformed the biosphere ((Vernadsky). Here the evolution of human society (socialization) is ruled by psychological, economic, informational and communicative processes.
For Teilhard there is a further stage, one of spiritual evolution, the Christing of the collective noosphere, in which humanity converges in a single divinisation he calls the Omega Point. This latter has interesting parallels in the teachings of Sri Aurobindo (see below).
Working at the same time, or a little earlier, than Vernadsky and Teilhard, Sri Aurobindo developed a theory of evolution that includes modern Western notions of evolution, with new age spiritual understanding. The process by which the Divine manifest the cosmos he called Involution. The process by which that which was created rises to higher states and states of higher consciousness he called the evolution. The Involution is essentially up to the point of the manifest universe; the Evolution is from the point from which the universe began.
The Process of Creation is the process by which the Many emerged from the One as a universe of divided, ignorant forms. The process begins when the Absolute divides into the triune of Being, Conscious Force, and Delight. The Conscious Force is then sub-divided through the Truth Consciousness, releasing the plane of energy. This non-moving energy exits before the universe begins. When it "moves" and cogaulates the universe begins. (In this process that creates this original Energy, all consciousness of the original Divine source is absorbed and lost purposely by the creator, so that the individual forms who would appear in creation, i.e. we humans can discover the Divine essence in it which is invoved and hidden in those forms. Thus the Divine enabled creation for the discovery of spirit locked in unconscious forms, including matter, which enables the ultimate joy of being in our lives.) The evolution is the movement forward by which the created universe evolves from its initial state of divided, ignorant forms, emerges as Life and Mind, and in that process rediscovers its Source. The evolution occurs after the involution. It is the development and progressive movement of all in the cosmos, including humans, to attain its fulfillment, including rediscovery in delight of the spiritual aspect, that Consciousness-Force, that was the source of the creation but was intentionally hidden for the purpose of the delight of discovery. The evolution is the progressive development from the first inconscience in matter into life (movement, sensation, etc. and living physical beings), to mind (in conscious being, animals, including the human, the self-conscious thinking animal), to spiritualized mind, culminating in Supermind, Truth Consciousness (as supramental individuals, leading to a supramental, i.e. a divine life on earth.)
Although Sri Aurobindo was more concerned with indidividual spiritual development, his successive stages of matter, life, and mind are very much the same as the collective sequence of geosphere, biosphere, and noosphere described by Vernadsky and Teilhard, and his future state of Supramental Transformation has intriguing parallels with Teilhard's "Omega Point". A number of authors (Bruteau, 1974, Sethna, 1973, 1981, Zaehner 1971) have pointed out the striking similarities between the two visionary thinkers.
- Sri Aurobindo (1977), The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust
- Sri Aurobindo, The Secret of the Veda Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust
- Bruteau, B. (1974). Evolution toward divinity: Teilhard de Chardin and the Hindu traditions. Wheaton, Ill.,, Theosophical Pub. House.
- Sethna, K. D. (1973) Teilhard de Chardin and Sri Aurobindo - a focus on fundamentals, Bharatiya Vidya Prakasan, Varanasi
- ----- (1981). The spirituality of the future : a search apropos of R. C. Zaehner's study in Sri Aurobindo and Teilhard de Chardin. Rutherford, [N.J.] London, Fairleigh Dickerson University Press; Associated University Presses.
- Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre (1959) The Phenomenon of Man Collins Fontana Books, London
- Zaehner, R.C. (1971) Evolution in religion: a study in Sri Aurobindo and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin Clarendon Press, Oxford.